Chiropractic and Heart Rate Variability
You’re telling me chiropractic care can improve my Heart Rate Variability?
As a chiropractor, I have had multiple experiences with new patients who sought out care for a symptom (e.g. low back pain, neck pain etc). After consistent care, patients who originally came in for a symptom start noticing other areas of their health improving as well! Although chiropractic care is a great therapy to help decrease musculoskeletal symptoms, it has been proven through research time and time again that consistent chiropractic care can help with so much more like improving your heart rate variability! (1)
In order for us to have a discussion on the bigger picture and changes chiropractic provokes we must work from the same set of definitions. The primary objective of chiropractic care is to detect and correct vertebral subluxations, enhancing the nervous system function in order to improve overall health and wellness. You may be asking what is a subluxation? The Australian spinal research foundation defines a subluxation as “ a diminished state of being, compromising of a state of reduced coherence, altered biomechanical function, altered neurological function and altered adaptability”. (2) This is a complicated way of saying subluxations move your body away from a state of health (growth and repair) and closer to sickness (breakdown). Subluxations are corrected through a chiropractic adjustment which results in changes in the body’s biomechanics, structure, central nervous system (CNS), motor output, and autonomic output (ANS). (1)
We know that health is not a destination, rather a constant journey of maintaining a balance or homeostasis. One’s ability to adapt well and fast to its environment is a state of health. A great measure of this adaptability and ultimately nervous system function is Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Originally HRV was a a measurement used to assess heart health, however it is now seen that HRV shows the influence of the vagus nerve (a major component of your parasympathetic nervous system or the rest and digest centers of your body) and the sympathetic nervous system, thus showing us the function of the Autonomic Nervous system (essentially how you exercise, recover, eat, sleep, and perceive stress). (3)
Unlike your basic HR (beats per minute), HRV is a deeper measure demonstrating the exact changes between successive heartbeats. It has been demonstrated that a high HRV is associated with health longevity and a higher ability for adaptation and resilience. HRV has even been used to predict elite athletes’ ability to perform optimally during a workout/sport. (1) However the opposite is true as well: low HRV has been linked to age-related system depletion, chronic stress, and overall inadequate function of the nervous system. HRV is now a great way to assess one’s health and many of chiropractors are now using HRV as an objective outcome during consistent long term care. (1)
There is an amazing retrospective study (looking back over time) where individuals received consistent chiropractic care up to one year and how this altered their HRV. Baselines were taken of all patients and then objective measures (HRV) were monitored throughout their care plan. It was shown that every patient received an improvement in their HRV showing immediate and long lasting neuophysiolocial changes affected by chiropractic care. Some patients were even able to elicit a change in HRV, bringing the values to levels more consistent with younger or athletic individuals. (1)
Variations from person to person were seen within the study, but an obvious trend of increasing HRV was noted. The exact mechanism behind altering HRV via chiropractic adjustments is up for some debate and further research in this area is warranted.
As one goes into the motherhood transition we want to ensure we are as healthy as possible. Using HRV as a measure of that health is a great way to get a baseline and work to improve it. On top of mastering our chiropractic pillar to help improve HRV there are some other ways that have been shown to help improve HRV.
Rest: where repair and growth can happen. It’s amazing how much time, money and effort people put into their workout routine, supplements, etc., but will continue to sleep on a bad mattress. We spend a huge portion of our life sleeping, so we must do whatever we can to get all the benefits possible.
Meditation: whether it is self-driven or guided
Belly Breathing: Deep and Slow
Movement for Pleasure: hike, bike ride, etc.
Exercising during pregnancy (4): has proven to have epigenetic benefits to the HRV of your baby (An amazing book that is a MUST read is Exercising Through your pregnancy by James Clapp)
There is actually a great app where you can start to monitor your own HRV making it a daily practice to get the best results. It’s called Elite HRV and you can find it here (5). With Elite HRV you can add a HR Monitor and take your HRV each morning and it’s all connected through your smartphone. By recording short HRV readings daily, Elite HRV helps you find what your “normal” Autonomic Nervous System patterns look like, giving you insights into your nervous system as well as stress and recovery activity, and then automatically guides you in improving those patterns over time (5). After about a week or two of consistent tracking, you will pull some accurate numbers. As you apply the chiropractic pillar and the 5 above ways to improve HRV you can watch your improvements at home.
If you want to connect with a chiropractor in your area click here to find our BIRTHFIT certified professionals.
Dr. Jill Cameron
Chiropractor and Regional DirectorBIRTHFIT ROARING FORK VALLEY, CO @birthfit_rfv
1. Sustained improvement of Heart Rate Variability in patients undergoing a program of Chiropractic Care; A retrospective Case Series. Chiropractic Journal of Australia 2018 A.L.Haas PHD, DC, David Russel, BSc (Psych), BSc (Chiro)
2. The vertebral subluxation; conceptual definition for research and practice The australian spinal research foundation June 2017
3. Impact of Reduced HRV on risk of cardiac events: The Framingham Health Study. Circulation 1996; 94 (11): 2850-2855. Tsuji H.
4. Exercising Through Your Pregnancy [James F. Clapp III MD, Catherine Cram MS]
5. Website: https://elitehrv.com/what-is-heart-rate-variabilit